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e-health information.

Northwest Community Healthcare, which serves suburbs to the northwest of Chicago, is embracing technological advances to offer more convenience and better care to its patients.

The group just finished the implementation of a new electronic health record system, a project that has been in the works since late 2013.

The system “helps improve communication between clinicians, allows patient data to be readily available across all units and saves time for clinicians who no longer chase down patient charts,” CEO Steve Scogna said in a statement.

It also allows patients to access their own information through a 24-hour online portal so they can request or schedule appointments, view their test results, request refills on prescriptions, keep track of immunization and medications, and even securely communicate with healthcare providers directly.

Electronic Health Records in the U.S.
Despite their undeniable promise, electronic health records have become a fraught issue in the United States, largely because of government programs that first incentivized and have now essentially mandated their use for providers accepting Medicare or Medicaid payments.

There’s no doubt that the market for EHR systems is growing; the industry is projected to reach nearly $30 billion by 2022, according to the latest projections. Data for last year is still being collected, but adoption of basic EHR systems by office-based physicians went up by 21% in just one year between 2012 and 2013 (bringing the total figure to about 78%). Critics say, however, that doctors have had very little choice in whether to implement those systems and in how they are implemented.

Federal regulators are now having to back off on some requirements in order to give doctors, hospitals and medical software systems more time to comply with government requirements.

The next big challenge, those in the industry say, will be to bridge the gaps among various EHR software systems so that both providers and patients can reap all the benefits that EHRs can — at least in theory — offer.

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